Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue requesting that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Packers & Stockyards Division publicly release findings from its investigation into beef pricing margins following a fire last August at the Tyson Foods beef plant in Holcomb, Kan. The Packers & Stockyards Division was instructed to launch an investigation in August 2019, and a report has yet to be released.
“I write today regarding concerns about the enforcement of the Packers & Stockyards Act at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the ability to protect our country’s independent cattle producers from unfair practices. The national pandemic of COVID-19 has shed light on the many problems within the Packers & Stockyards Division and its inability to preserve our nation’s beef supply chain,” Grassley wrote to Perdue.
“On Aug. 28, 2019, you directed USDA’s Packers & Stockyards Division to launch an investigation into beef pricing margins following the fire at Tyson’s plant in Holcomb, Kan. Nearly a year later, farmers and producers still await any reports from this investigation,” Grassley said.
If a report is not issued on the Holcomb plant by Aug. 9, 2020, a year since the fire there, Grassley said he will be asking the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct an investigation into the reporting processes of the Packers & Stockyards Division to see if additional authority or resources are needed to properly conduct oversight of processing facilities.
“Whether it be in my office in Washington [D.C.] or on the farm in Iowa, I hear frustration and skepticism from farmers and producers. These feelings in farm country may be eased should USDA release insights from this investigation. I ask that you release a preliminary report as soon as possible on the Tyson’s fire to give producers across the country confidence that USDA’s administrative procedures are protecting independent producers,” Grassley wrote.
Grassley is a longtime advocate for additional transparency in the meat packing industry. Twenty years ago, he held an oversight hearing on USDA’s ability to address competition concerns in the meat industry.
On March 13, 2020, Grassley and Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.) sent a letter regarding whether an undue or unreasonable preference or advantage has occurred in violation of the Packers & Stockyards Act. Later that month, Grassley called upon both USDA and the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate potential market manipulation and other illegal activity by large meat packing companies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
USDA recently initiated an investigation, and DOJ announced that it had issued civil investigative demands to the nation’s four largest meat packers.